We are so often reminded through the stories in the press of how often noise issues can result in, or be associated with, aggressive or violent behaviour. Dozens of people have died in recent years after being involved in a dispute about neighbour noise. So many neighbour noise cases appear to be ending in violence. We once reported on a horrific attack of one disabled man who dared to complain to his neighbour about his barking dog; and often highlight the fact that anti-social behaviour and noise pollution can lead to violence.
However, despite the reports of violence and terrible newspaper headlines, the number of people harmed in neighbour disputes about noise is minute if you compare it to the number of complaints that are made to local authorities each year; a whopping 500,000.
Mental health issues are clearly a significant concern when it comes to noise (be it the poor health of the perpetrator or the sufferer). Inappropriate living conditions, particularly in relation to densely populated accommodation, can have an influence on poor health; as can, in some cases, social isolation.
One of the main outcomes provided by environmental health services, now continually stretched and often under resourced, is the protection/reduction of mental health and well-being through noise control and improvement of housing standards. It is important that, where mental health issues are already a factor involved in noise cases that they liaise with social services, social landlords and other health professionals if it is deemed appropriate.
Alcohol and drug issues also play a significant part in the causes of anti-social behaviour. Dealing with the route causes can help prevent or reduce nuisance and it is important that investigating authorities don’t just address the symptoms of anti-social behaviour. Anti-social behaviour legislation now encourages enforcing authorities and social landlords to find positive solutions to anti-social behaviour.
We know that intervening in a noise issue can sometimes result in confrontation if not completed carefully. If your neighbour has not displayed examples of aggressive or threatening behaviour, and is in good health, you should not be afraid of approaching them. However, the way you approach your neighbour should be considered carefully beforehand. Do everything you can to avoid confrontation and remember that ongoing issues (regular noise incidents) do not have to be settled on the night of the disturbance. Avoid visiting late night parties or approaching groups of people; particularly if drugs and alcohol are involved. Pick a suitable moment later in the week and use a calm and friendly tone.
Never use sound to retaliate over noise issues as this may result in a counter claim and damage your chances of resolving the issue amicably.
One of the questions that we often get asked is “what time is it OK to make noise until?”. The simple answer to that question is that there is no such time specified in statutory nuisance law for noise pollution times; noise can amount to a nuisance at any time. However, in the Noise Act “night-time” is specified as being between the hours of 11pm and 7am; and noise is particularly significant in terms of likelihood for disturbance between these hours.
Clearly, the later the noise the more likely that it will be to disturb and annoy. The frequency of occurrence is also important and other variable factors such as the proximity of other residents and how loud it is. A one-off house party is unlikely to be considered a problem. However, there are circumstances where it would become unreasonable, for example where:
It continues well beyond midnight;
Where there are sensitive complainants next door (e.g. young children);
Where it is taking place outside in a residential area (noise is very intrusive at night);
Where there is loud amplified music or a band.
Anyone wishing to party at their home beyond 11pm in a garden or marquee, or with music outside, should consider a licensed venue as a more appropriate alternative. Informing their immediate neighbours will rarely be sufficient or effective.
Responding on the Night to Noise
Unless your Council provides a night-time response service it is unlikely they will be able to attend to noise on the night that it is occurring. In such cases, a one-off party will have fizzled out before they have the opportunity to respond (and, in such cases, they are unlikely to be able to respond retrospectively). More regular disturbances can be dealt with proactively by the Council and are worth reporting.
Where a Council does have an “out-of-hours” service at night they will be able to respond quickly on the night. In most cases they will attempt to effect an amicable solution to one-off parties by advising the occupant to reduce the noise and bring people inside. They can take formal action if the noise continues into the early hours and the occupant has refused or taken little (or no) action to abate nuisance.
Construction and Maintenance Works
With regards noise pollution times and building works there is a British Standard that supports the legislation that may be imposed on the construction industry. It suggests that noisy construction or demolition work may take place from 8am to 6pm with a shoulder hour either side (effectively, then, 7am to 7pm). However, there are occasions where work will take place outside those times and at night. Examples of where night-time work is often permitted include on major or trunk roads (for example, where emergency work is needed to services or where disruption would cause significant transport issues) or track-side maintenance on railway systems. Where large infrastructure projects cause sleep disturbance repeatedly, night after night, the Council may use the prejudicial to health limb of the statutory nuisance powers to minimise impact.
When considering permitted hours for noisy construction works it is important to be flexible in your approach. Councils that apply rigid policies precluding evening or weekend works may subject particularly sensitive receptors like schools or clinics to a great deal of avoidable noise. In addition, depending upon the length of the project, it may be preferable to endure a period of evening and weekend works if that significantly reduces the length of the project. More on construction noise.
Find out more and get professional one-to-one advice. Check out our Resources.
We’ve reviewed all of the available reference materials so that you don’t have to. Here’s a summary of the noise pollution books that we like and/or use regularly ourselves followed by a short review of each.
Noise Pollution Books – Summary
Statutory Nuisance by Robert McCracken, Gregory Jones and James Pareira
A process-led journey through the application of the statutory nuisance framework. Suitable for anyone studying, enforcing or practising statutory nuisance.
Statutory Nuisance by Robert McCracken, Gregory Jones and James Pareira
A little easier to consume than Malcolm and Pointings’ text, McCracken and Pareira have put together a clear and methodical guide to the statutory nuisance legal process and mechanisms. It is now on it’s third edition, published in 2012.
The format follows the legal process from service through to appeal and costs. It offers a different style of text than Malcolm and Pointings’ book, containing less information on the background and origins of statutory nuisance; and less guidance as on interpretation and the individual nuisances. However, it is much more accessible and well set-out. Highly recommended.
Statutory Nuisance: Law and Practice by Rosalind Malcolm and John Pointing
There are separate chapters relating to each subsection of nuisance as well as detailed information relating to historial background, evidence and legal process.
Packed throughout with references to cases it provides, with a few exceptions, a strong and reliable interpretation of the law. Whilst the latest changes to associated legislation, such as that relating to anti-social behaviour, are not yet mentioned it is an extremely useful reference book for any practitioner. The book is much more academic in style than McCracken’s.
The Little Red Book of Acoustics: A Practical Guide by R Watson and Owen Downey
As the name would suggest this is a handy quick reference guide to the science of acoustics. Concentrating on environmental and building acoustics the book provides a straight-forward understanding of the physics, measurement, calculation and application of acoustic standards. As with other texts that provide references to the law and associated guidance they can quickly become out of date. Other than that, nobody has a bad word to say about this book.
On it’s 3rd edition now the Little Red Book of Acoustics is a useful reference for building surveyors, planners, EHOs and, of course, acousticians.
Anti-social Behaviour: The New Law by Kuljit Bhogal
A nice little overview of the powers and mechanisms brought about by the Anti-social Behaviour, Policing and Crime Act 2014. Whilst this comes from one of the large legal publishing houses it doesn’t come packed with caselaw and is more of a guide for practitioners than a masterpiece on the interpretation of the law. After providing some background to the introduction of the legislation it works through each of the main legislative powers in turn.
A good starting point for any student or practitioner involved in ASB; including police officers, environmental health, housing officers and social landlords.
Noise Nuisance: How to Tackle a Noisy Neighbour
The most comprehensive guide to noise pollution and noisy neighbour disputes available covering all the main topics. The text is arranged in several chapters providing advice to sufferers of noise nuisance on how to tackle and resolve a wide range of noise issues. Details the law, investigation process and what action can be taken by individuals in an easy and accessible way. Packed full of real-life tips and advice.
Non-academic in style and without the jargon; this is a good all-round reference book for anyone suffering from noise nuisance.
In this 80 page noise nuisance book we share much of what we’ve learned through our experiences working in noise control. We explain what you need to do to solve your problem and about noise regulation.
Is your neighbour (be that a resident or business) interfering with your peace? Are you unsure as to what action to take? Do the local authority appear inactive?
The text, totalling a whopping 30,000 words, is provided in the following chapters:
Background, health and sound
Where to start
Regulation and legislation
Complaining about poor service
Taking your own action
Noise specific advice
The advice given in this book will help provide you with an understanding of the noise investigation process so that you can resolve your noise issue more quickly.
Real white noise isn’t particularly nice or soothing to listen to and sounds a bit like the static you might encounter when skipping to a blank channel on an old-fashioned television (for those of you who haven’t experienced that think of radio space between channels with an analogue signal). There are, however, some more therapeutic sounds that are commonly referred to as white noise that will provide a more suitable ambient tone. Here we will give a brief outline of how noise masking works and how you can use it to aid sleep.
The brain is wired to tap into certain sounds (although it can also be conditioned to do so with some sounds more than others). This is the reason why many people are able to live near to railway lines but not be able to sleep if they can hear the muffled activities of their neighbours. When you use a background noise let’s be clear about what you are doing. In effect, you are masking the unwanted sound from those external sources that bother you with additional sound that you generate yourself (usually with an electronic gizmo or device). Unlike your neighbours, any sound you generate you have complete control of. Most will contain a wide frequency range and, as a result, a wide range of intrusions are masked to varying degrees.
White Noise as a Solution to Background Sound
The solution is not foolproof, is not ideal and is very much a last resort. In the hierarchy of nuisance control removing or minimising the noise at it’s source is always the more preferable option to masking noise. However, noise masking is becoming more popular, particularly in relation to soundscape design. As town planning becomes more and more problematic in densely populated areas architects are introducing some pretty unsophisticated design features; for example, by adding a water fountain into a shared courtyard space to mask traffic noise. In open-office environments fans or air conditioning can also minimise disturbance. The principle is the same. Of course, in these situations masking can generate additional problems and, in some circumstances, can present an ethical or professional dilemma.
When it comes to masking in practice and devices, in order for sleep to be uninterrupted, you need to steer clear of using recordings using your mobile device or music players. Unless you are using them to monitor noise you should keep these sort of distractions out of the bedroom. However, there are some simple purpose-made electrical devices that provide a suitable masking sound; and which are ideal for the sleeping environment. Ideally, in order to be effective, they should generate sound without it being generated via an electronic loop. The Marpac device, for example, generates a tone through the use of a fan. Alternatively, the LectroFan has a range of pre-set tones that do not repeat. Both have been tried and tested with good results and may also be useful to those suffering from problems like tinnitus.
Permitted Development of Office Buildings and Noise
We have mentioned previously about recent relaxations to planning laws providing permitted development rights in certain circumstances. This has allowed developers to convert commercial buildings such as office blocks to residential property. Our prediction was that this would result in a number of developments taking place on buildings that would expose future occupants to excess noise. That prediction quickly became a reality. However, the government also introduced an amendment to planning legislation that requires planning authorities to consider the impact that noise generated by existing commercial premises will have on the occupants of the proposed conversion. They will now fall under the prior approval process; where the developer notifies the planning authority of their intention to convert.
Premises Licence holders (including pub co’s) are clearly happy with the changes that have been made as they will (in theory) be less likely to encounter complaints post-build; either because the development will not go ahead, go ahead but be designed to mitigate noise impacts. The change will be equally well received by a number of other noise generating businesses used for commercial or industrial purposes.
There has been a condition added that any development of an office building into flats must now take place within 3 years from the prior approval date.
Despite this, I expect that the developments will still take place under a flight-path, sandwiched between a railway and an A-road.
This webpage provides a lot more detail on the subject of permitted development with respect to Class O.
Sometimes when you speak to officials and enforcers they often use terms, phrases and code that is unfamiliar to everyday folk. Here at noisenuisance.org we try to empower victims; and one of the ways we do that is by providing expert knowledge that can be used without needing a doctorate in gobbledegook to understand it. In this post we explain the term “serving notice” in relation to abatement notices.
Statutory notices are used by law enforcers for a wide range of different purposes. Most will require the person (or company) receiving the notice to do something within a specified time period, alongside a threat of a fine or criminal proceedings if they fail to comply with the terms of the notice.
When Noise Becomes a Crime
Noise abatement notices are served by local authority environmental health departments when they are satisfied that a statutory nuisance exists (or is likely to occur or recur). They are served on the person responsible for the noise (usually the person or company making the noise). They will require the statutory nuisance (noise) to be abated or restricted and may include steps that must be taken to achieve compliance (such as restrictions on sound levels or times of operation). They will also include a time limit for abatement (which in many cases can be immediately). Where the recipient fails to comply with the terms of the notice they may face prosecution and a significant fine.
A notice may be appealed by the recipient. In England this will be via the magistrates’ court in the first instance (with a second chance of appeal at Crown Court).
Drafting a notice is not as simple as printing off a standard template (as you would expect with a parking ticket). Some minor issues may be tolerated by an understanding magistrate or judge. However, it is not uncommon for a seemingly simple and inoffensive notice to be quashed due to a small informality or error. The costs to the Council in such cases can be considerable; so it is really important that notices are considered carefully before service. The way it is served is also important.
Having a notice served on the perpetrator will often be good news to the victim. They will know that the recipient has been given a formal “last chance” warning and will be reassured that their complaint is being taken seriously by the local authority. Getting to that point may be difficult though. Stay positive and make use of the many resources provided in our Tutorial (which will help get you to that point more quickly).
Living in urban environments ain’t easy; not only are you more likely to suffer from road, rail and aircraft noise you are more likely to complain about neighbour noise (be that from commercial or residential sources). We’ve found that there is a strong relationship between the number of noise complaints and population density.
The figures are not surprising; it is something that we know and, to a certain extent, accept. Thankfully local authorities tend to take more enforcement action in the areas that are most affected. So, in urban environments, the rate of notices served is generally higher (and those Councils receiving the most complaints generally take the most action).
What we didn’t expect to find was no relationship between areas of high deprivation and the likelyhood of complaints being received.
However, since we were using the ONS indices, we know that the term “deprivation” is not necessarily just associated with income or wealth but takes into account other factors. Higher levels of rural deprivation, where property values may be lower and levels of unemployment significant, could also be a contributing factor that may balance figures. Furthermore, previous research has shown us that “those with the means” tend to be more likely to take advantage of public services (i.e. complain about noise).
Areas with higher proportions of social housing stock were more likely to experience a higher level of noise complaints. Again though, social housing is more likely to be located in built up areas and in dwellings concentrated in close proximity to each other (i.e. flats).
The bottom line is though that, rich or poor, noise does not discriminate and affects all walks of life; moreso if you live in an urban environment.